An alpaca farm fears its pregnant animals could lose their young after it was terrorised by out-of-control hunting dogs.
Police are investigating after a pack of hounds tore through barbed-wire fences and into the farm, sending about 65 animals fleeing.
The farm’s owners said they feared the chaotic scene could spell “the end” for their business, which breeds alpacas and relies on selling the animals and their fleeces for income.
Herts Alcapas in Buntingford, Hertfordshire, has temporarily closed to visitors to allow the animals to “de-stress”. Trauma can lead pregnant alpacas to miscarry and can also cause their fleeces to soften, making them worthless.
Farm owner Nigel Beckwith told The Independent: “We were invaded by a whole pack of hounds that were totally out of control.
“We were feeding our pregnant females and all of a sudden we heard this absolute howling, braying sound of God knows how many dogs. We looked across and saw all these dogs running down.”
He said the hounds crawled under and leapt over a four-foot fence and thundered through the farm, running through a group of 24 pregnant alpacas and a field of young studs.
The Puckeridge Hunt said some of its dogs had “unexpectedly entered the property” and were “removed as quickly as possible”.
Mr Beckwith, 60, said: “There was nobody with them, nobody near them. They went tearing through our fields, through our bridleways, through a cemetery up the top. It was absolute hell. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
One female was injured running into a fence as it fled the dogs and at least one other alpaca is thought likely to abort its cria.
But Mr Beckwith, who has run the farm with his wife Katie for 15 years, said they would not know for months if others in the herd had lost their young.
He added: “We can’t sell any animals for the time being because alpacas, as with a lot of livestock, if they have this sort of stress the chances are they might abort, the could deliver prematurely or terminate the pregnancy, and we are not going to know this for three or four months’ time.
“The other side of our business is fibre. Unfortunately if you stress and alpaca its fibre goes all soft and becomes tender, so we’re not even sure we can make any money out of that either. We’ve shut the farm down at the moment because we just want the animals to de-stress.”
He said if the farm was unable to sell any alpacas or fleeces this year it would “either mean that we just hang or it’ll be the end of us”.
“If we don’t get the babies, we can’t sell the stock,” Mr Beckwith added. “It’s devastating.”
Puckeridge Hunt said it was operating “within the law” when its dogs tore through the farm on Saturday afternoon. It described the incident as “a very rare occurance”.
In a statement issued through the Countryside Alliance, the hunt said: “Regrettably it appears the scent of our trail must have drifted from where it was laid and some hounds unexpectedly entered the property belonging to the Beckwith family.
“We removed the hounds as quickly as possible and apologised immediately to Mr Beckwith for this unintended access onto his property.
“We have repeated this apology and are hopeful there will be no lasting damage to his alpaca herd however we have been very open with Mr Beckwith and requested that if there are any further concerns then he should immediately raise them with the Puckeridge Hunt.
“We also discussed this with the police on the day.”
However, Mr Beckwith said he had received no apology or contact from the hunt organisers.
Hertfordshire Police confirmed it was called at 12.15pm on Saturday to “reports that a large pack of dogs were running loose and causing distress to approximately 65 alpacas in a private field”.
A spokeswoman added: “Officers attended the scene and all parties involved were spoken to. At the time of police attendance, the alpacas were distressed and it was not suitable to examine for physical injury.
“Police are in contact with the owners to monitor their post-incident welfare and assessment.
“Enquiries are continuing and no one has been arrested at this stage.”
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